Downtown Jacksonville is thriving, full of creative people doing new and exciting things. Everywhere you look, there’s a new restaurant opening its doors, a new bar transforming a completely unused space, and shops sprouting out of the landscape like idealistic toadstools the morning after a rain. Each new establishment helps to foster the atmosphere that will keep future growth strong, especially as more people discover what sort of things are being done.
No other time better demonstrated this outflow of creative energy than the One Spark festival last year. Thousands of people streamed into downtown to vote for the most innovative creators, people with ideas or goals as varied and unique as themselves. People showcased new inventions, painted new art, and sang songs the world had never heard to an urban core that hadn’t pulsed with this kind of life in decades.
This year, One Spark is coming again – bigger and better to show Jacksonville just how creative its own citizens can be. It will, once again, be an incredible experience that should not be missed. When you find time between the breathtaking works of art, wacky and inspirational inventors and social projects that just needed a little bit of recognition to finally take off, you should stop by some of the permanent establishments in downtown.
Turn the page
Chamblin’s Uptown is the smaller, classier brother of the amazing Chamblin Bookmine. While it lacks the sheer sprawling complexity of the Bookmine, it makes up for that with a prime location in the heart of downtown. Right at the end of Laura Street and Monroe Street, next to Hemming Plaza (with Skyway access a short walk away), Chamblin’s Uptown is a lynchpin in the revitalization of the downtown area.
The exterior sports a fantastic mural by muralist Shaun Thurston, whose beautiful pieces are scattered throughout the downtown area and beyond. The mural shows floating islands shaded by gnarled trees, flying high above a distant city surrounded by desert. It captures a bit of the experience of Chamblin’s, where you can find a book and then float away beyond the city around you into the wild blue yonder of the next page.
Chamblin’s Uptown also sports a café. There are plenty of tables and chairs inside and out for cafe-style seating. Once you walk in you can head over to the counter for a bite or a beverage. There is a great variety of food, both vegan and carnivore friendly. The Turkey Croissant is one of the best sandwiches on the menu, sort of a Thanksgiving-esque sandwich with thick sliced turkey topped with cranberry chutney on a warm and flakey croissant. Later on, you can also buy beer by the bottle if you need something to kick back with while you crack open your book.
After you enjoy a cup of coffee or quick bite to eat, venture forth into the stacks. This is a place for people who truly love books – from the unmistakable smell in the air, to the feeling of absolute wonder you get when you find a book you didn’t even know you were looking for until you’ve found it. Other bookstores can capture these sensations, but often lack the scale that this store manages to achieve while keeping all of its quirky originality.
Indochine is one of downtown’s premier restaurants. This classy modernist Thai restaurant offers the very best in Southeast Asian cuisine. Indochine is upstairs from Burrito Gallery, on the second floor, in a part of downtown that is regularly filled with visitors. Despite the limitations on space in the second floor location, it’s a very efficient layout that never feels too crowded.
The menu is versatile, like many Thai restaurants there is a mix of traditional dishes that can be served with a variety of protein at a range of spice levels. For anyone unfamiliar with Thai food, you may want to consider starting from the bottom, as the spice level goes well beyond traditional American cuisine. Even though each dish is highly customizable, the inherent flavors will shine through no matter what else has been thrown in to it – be it Pad Thai or Prik Pow.
On the more adventurous side of things are the Drunken Noodles, a pile of stir-fried noodles with just enough kick to get the sinuses flowing. This dish has plenty of rich flavors, from the fried egg to the bits of cooked onion that have a satisfying crisp with each bite. We ordered ours with beef, and it was a great combination of spicy meat and tasty sautéed noodles. This is also a dish that makes a great leftover, if you somehow manage to save some for later!
Indochine offers a veritable rainbow of curry, but the Panang Curry is by far the best on the menu. The sauce is rich and creamy, with the sort of exotic seasoning you can expect in a great curry base. It comes with plenty of vegetables to mix in with a pile of white rice, which will soak up that amazing sauce like nobody’s business. Ours arrived with mixed bits of tofu, which seemed like a natural fit to the creamy textures of the curry. The chunks of potato were especially welcome, as the starchy flavors provided a bit of relief from the spiciness of the dish.
Take in a show
Later in the evening, head to Underbelly for your nightcap. This bar has the best local music and room for attendees of all kinds. If the band isn’t quite ready yet, belly up to the bar and enjoy whatever movie is projecting over the brick wall behind the bartenders. Naturally, all of the local beers from Intuition Ale Works and Bold City are on tap, and there is a great selection beyond that. It is an integral part of the Elbow District, the growing arts and cultural area devoted to reinvigorating downtown with a great musical scene. During events, don’t be surprised to see some furniture spread out in front of the bar to maximize the use of available space.
One Spark is a great excuse to get outside of the house and check out downtown. Whether you’ve never ventured to the area, or are extremely familiar with it, One Spark will show downtown at its best and you won’t want to miss it.